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Jesus at first only assumed the title of Son of Man,* which had been given to some of the prophets. The more dangerous claim of the character of Messiah, or successor of David, he only acknowledged in secret to his more confidential followers;† for its open avowal was nearly equivalent to a declaration of revolt from the Romans, and an armed insurrection does not seem at any time to have entered into his views. He contented himself with the exercise of his prophetic office amongst his followers, and with the expectation of the miraculous deliverance promised by the prophets.
To understand the conduct of Jesus, we must allow that it was, like that of all other men, influenced, in some degree, by circumstances. If, at this critical time, his preaching throughout Galilee had been followed by a general rising of the Jewish nation, the expulsion of the Romans, and the election of himself to the throne, his acts and expressions up to this time lead us to conjecture that, although his superior prophetic dignity set him above the subordinate details of organizing and heading revolts in person, he might yet have accepted such success as a sign from heaven, and allowed himself to be borne on to the seat of David, in the generally understood character of the Messiah, a triumphant king of Israel. But events happened otherwise; and from them the
of Israel; xix. 28, When the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; xxiii. 37, O Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing, and ye would not.-Besides, the natural and common signification of the word Christ, or Anointed, was equivalent to king. See 1 Samuel xxiv. 6.
But in maintaining that Jesus aimed at the dominion over Israel, it is not pretended that his views were all along limited to this. The coming of the kingdom, in the last verse of Malachi, and in Isaiah, is made coincident with the spread of righteousness over the earth. Jesus, having derived his views in great part from the prophets, intended to be both king and prophet; and therefore spoke both as a national regenerator and a moral reformer.
* A reason for Jesus's assuming this title is suggested in the examination of Daniel, chap. xiv.
† Matt. xvi. 13-20.
views of Jesus necessarily took a somewhat different colour.*
His proceedings attracted the attention of the Jewish governments. Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, had already imprisoned John, from jealously of his influence with the people, and, according to Josephus, put him to death from the same motive. Jesus appeared to be a still more dangerous person, and it became known that Herod was seeking to arrest him.
Jesus at first avoided the danger by retiring into desert places. His situation was now become difficult and perplexing. Although followed by crowds of wonder-gazers, who, he knew, were able to confer only the name and the danger, of royalty, none of the influential towns§ had given him any support or countenance, and no signs from heaven yet appeared to indicate superhuman aid. His progress hitherto seemed brilliant; but it could not long be continued. To perambulate the towns of Galilee, preaching to hungry multitudes, must become a burden to both parties as soon as the excitement of novelty was lost. And now the local government was about to interfere.
There were two courses open to Jesus; to endeavour to make his peace with the tetrarch, by withdrawing from the public eye and sinking back to his original station, or to sustain his claims and perish a martyr; for it was obvious that the danger must be greater at Jerusalem, or the parts adjoining, than in Galilee.
The magnanimity which leads public men to fear death less than a disgraceful retreat is not uncommon. The energy of his character, the raised expectations of his followers, and probably a secret persuasion that he was still the agent destined to accomplish the purpose of the God
* The character and views of Jesus will be considered more fully in ch. xvi.
† Matt. xiv. 1.
Matt. xiv. 13.
Matt. xi. 21-23, "Wo unto thee Chorazin... Bethsaida...and thou, Capernaum." It will be seen that this sketch follows chiefly the order of Matthew, but not exactly. For reasons to be given hereafter, it appears that this gospel is the best guide in this respect, but still that it has not preserved the true order of all the events and discourses.
of Israel, led Jesus to prefer the former. He determined to go up at once to Jerusalem, and to claim openly the Messiahship. This was rushing upon nearly certain death. Enthusiasm cannot blind men to the most obvious consequences of their actions, and Jesus had already experienced that his imagined character of Messiah did not secure him from human wants and dangers. He began to contemplate the probability of his martyrdom, and to give some intimations to his followers that the Messiah must suffer before he should reign.‡
He proceeded then towards Jerusalem, accompanied by the most ardent of his followers, and by the women of rank who supplied the temporal wants of the society. After visiting some intermediate towns, he made his entry boldly into the metropolis, riding upon an ass's colt, in order to apply to himself a passage of Zechariah supposed to relate to the Messiah.§ The populace crowded about the prophet of Nazareth, and were easily induced by the disciples to join in proclaiming him Son of David and Messiah. Jesus perceived very well that all this brought him in reality nearer to the cross than to the throne of
* Matt. xvi. 21, From that time forth, began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. The reasons for admitting only a part of this account are given in chap. xv.
† Matt. viii. 20.
To ascertain precisely the time at which Jesus began to teach the doctrine of a suffering Messiah is one of the most difficult points in this inquiry. For all the evangelists are more or less careless of the order of time in relating the discourses of Jesus, and the subsequent conduct of the disciples seems to shew that he did not plainly predict his death so soon. Yet it was natural enough, on taking such a dangerous step as the journey to Jerusalem, that he should prepare himself for the worst, and that he should begin to mould his doctrine according to his internal apprehensions. But it was not done in Galilee so clearly as to prevent the disciples' expectation of a temporal kingdom, which continued till nearly his death. See chap. xv.
Zech. ix. 9. The rest of the book shews pretty clearly that Zechariah intended this passage for his patron Zerubbabel. But, like many other passages descriptive of a king of Israel, and rendered obscure by the want of a more minute history, it was likely to be considered a prophecy of the Messiah, when quoted separately.
David, since a disorderly mob was no protection against the Roman government, and without a legion of angels he had little chance of resisting the legions of Pilate. He now saw that not only was there no chance of a national effort at regeneration, but that it was not the will of God for the present to grant aid from heaven. At the outset of his career, he might have flattered himself that he was destined to be a second Moses, and to redeem Israel by mighty signs and wonders; but his progress hitherto had convinced him that this was not in the divine plans, and the Essene doctrines of implicit submission to the decrees of Providence, and of the immortality of the soul, led him to look calmly on the growing probability of his own approaching death. It was only left for him to maintain, as long as events allowed, the character of prophet and king, which he had so long borne amongst his followers, and to meet his fate with a dignity becoming his preten
Jesus having thus prepared his mind for the worst, accepted the dangerous homage of the multitude, and proceeded in his character of regenerator to expel by main force the traffickers from the temple. The very audacity of the enterprise insured for a time his safety; for the people admiring his boldness, and delighted with his discourses, which rebuked keenly the vices of their superiors, became his protectors; insomuch that it was seen that any open attempt to destroy him must produce a tumult. The Jewish priests and nobles were perplexed. In the existing state of the public mind, the most trifling tumult might become the occasion of an insurrection; they were in an embarrassing position with respect to the Romans, who had left them hitherto many privileges, but who might make use of any appearance of revolt to reduce them to more rigid subjection. Placed between imperious masters and an impatient populace, and having themselves still much to lose, their constant policy was to preserve the status quo, and to stifle at once, as quietly as possible, all tendency to sedition.*
* See the account of Agrippa's attempt to stifle a tumult (Jos. War, Book ii. xvi.); and the commendations given to the high priest Ananus on the same account, War iv. v.
would have willingly denounced Jesus at once to the Roman governor, who alone possessed the power of life and death; but he had not yet committed any clear act of treason, and would not be led by their agents into a declaration against the tribute. They were constrained, then, to see him for a time publicly preaching in the temple on the same topics as he had done in Galilee. He took up his residence at a disciple's house in Bethany, whence he could conveniently visit Jerusalem, and, by the attractiveness of his character and discourses, gained many adherents. A few even of the nobles, who partook of the popular feeling, and themselves waited for the kingdom of God, secretly befriended him. Amongst these were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. But the greater part of the leading men perceived that a reformer who not only avowed his claim to the throne of David, but who inveighed unsparingly against themselves, must at any risk be removed. In addition to the danger of compromising them with the Romans, he was leading the people to despise their own power. They decided, then, upon seizing his person when he should be removed from the people, for which purpose one of his disappointed disciples offered his services, and then delivering him to the governor as a seditious person.
One of the disciples of Jesus was known to the high priest.* By his means, or through his concealed friends, Joseph and Nicodemus, Jesus had notice of the intention to apprehend him; but he had been long prepared to prefer martyrdom to flight. He assembled his disciples to eat the passover supper with him, and took a formal leave of them, telling them now plainly that, in order to fulfil the prophets,† the Messiah must be cut off, and undergo death preparatory to receiving his kingdom.‡
The gradual change in the views of Jesus since his departure from Galilee had not been readily adopted by his disciples. Excepting Judas Iscariot, whose attachment was not strong enough to blind him to the indica
*John viii. 15. The writer of this gospel relates the purport of several secret consultations of the Pharisees and priests. John ix. 47, xii. 19.
† Matt. xxvi. 24, 31, 54, 56.
Lake xxii. 16, 18, 28, 29.